While most festive-themed rock offerings are as palatable as turkey leftovers or January credit card statements, Jethro Tull's The Christmas Album
is 2003's folk-rock feast for the ears, a veritable hamper of delicacy bulging with dependable old faithfuls (newly rendered versions of JS Bach's "Bouree", "Weathercock", "Fires at Midnight" and "Ring Out Solstice Bells"), jazzed-up carol curiosities ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" really goes with a swing à la Modern Jazz Quartet, "We Five Kings" comes over a little bit Dave Brubeck
) and sundry confectionary extravagances, like Martin Barre's shivery instrumental " A Christmas Snowcape".
While it's all reassuringly wrapped-up in the wintry Victorian romanticism of yore (the album cover, after all, is a charmingly subtle joke), The Christmas Album still questions--in curmudgeonly Ian Anderson fashion--what all this back-slapping bonhomie, alcoholic immoderation and High-street retail hysteria is all about. Thus, the frivolity of "Holly Herald" (two spritely carols rolled into one) is counterbalanced by a little Dickensian social conscience on "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow", an imaginatively literate description of the despair of homelessness. Crisply produced in the manner of their vintage 1970s work and brimming with delightful instrumental wit and invention, The Christmas Album is a cracker you'll want to pull more than once. --Kevin Maidment